I’m listening to Train’s “Hey, Soul Sister” over and over, and I’m not proud of this fact. It’s like a drug. Every time I think I’ve listened to it enough, I think, No! Once more! Even lyrics like “You’re so gangsta, I’m so thug, you’re the only one I’m dreaming of” don’t deter me from playing it again and again. (Those lyrics are damn sweet, right? Riiight.)
The singer’s voice is simply intoxicating. It massages my temporal lobe and puts me in good humor. I suppose that’s what pop songs are meant to do, but I’ve never been a follower of pop songs. In fact, I think I may be a little bit of a snob regarding such things.
I should clarify my definition of pop song. I’m sure it’s like yours: catchy rhythm and melody, conventional structure, etc. But there’s one element that is more important than any other in my definition of pop: lyrics. Modern songs that I identify as pop have lame lyrics.
This element is important enough to me that if a song has all the other elements of a pop song, but the lyrics are good, then it immediately rises above the genre of pop. I guess pop, in my mind, is a genre filled with forgettable music with lame lyrics.
Perhaps I take it too seriously. As I said at the start of the post, the song makes me feel good. Perhaps that is the only point to the plethora of pop songs that get cranked out of music studios every day; they aren’t all designed to leave some definitive mark on the history of music.
I was dwelling on the idea of lyrics today while driving to Champaign-Urbana, and listening to my ipod. I cranked up my Pink Floyd playlists, which I haven’t listened to in some time. I’ve always been such a fan of their songwriting; I like that they seldom focus on new love, or lost love, or women, or any predictable subject matter for their songs. The song that comes closest to being a “love song” is probably “Wish You Were Here,” and, from what I understand, it was written about Syd Barrett and his drifting into schizophrenia.
Anyway, I listened to “When The Tigers Broke Free” on the drive. The first time I heard this song was when I watched “The Wall” as a teenager. It wasn’t included on that album of the same name, unfortunately, so I was thrilled when it came out on the compilation cd “Echoes.” The lyrics to the song have always made an impression on me:
It was just before dawn
One miserable morning in black ‘forty four.
When the forward commander
Was told to sit tight
When he asked that his men be withdrawn.
And the Generals gave thanks
As the other ranks held back
The enemy tanks for a while.
And the Anzio bridgehead
Was held for the price
Of a few hundred ordinary lives.
And kind old King George
Sent Mother a note
When he heard that father was gone.
It was, I recall,
In the form of a scroll,
With gold leaf and all.
And I found it one day
In a drawer of old photographs, hidden away.
And my eyes still grow damp to remember
His Majesty signed
With his own rubber stamp.
It was dark all around.
There was frost in the ground
When the tigers broke free.
And no one survived
From the Royal Fusiliers Company C.
They were all left behind,
Most of them dead,
The rest of them dying.
And that’s how the High Command
Took my daddy from me.
It’s a song about the death of Waters’ father, yet it avoids pathos and sentimentality (in my humble opinion). It’s more a sardonic critique of the war machine. I’ve just always been impressed with the way Waters put this song together. He would have lesser success in some of his later, more political and didactic songs (tho I don’t mind some of them), but this one just hits the mark for me.
Pink Floyd isn’t exactly pop music of course, but I think their work set the benchmark for what I consider good lyrics and good (musical) story telling.
As I get older though, I find myself bopping along to catchy tunes and thinking, “This is the stupidest song I’ve heard all day, but I like it!”
And that’s fun too.
Here’s a picture taken with a pinhole lens on my camera: